Lawrence High boys basketball players urged all of their classmates to wear black at school today, in support of their former basketball coach, Mike Lewis.
It’s a gesture of appreciation for a coach who, they said, taught them about more than just basketball. Lewis, who was fired last week, stressed plenty of things that extended beyond the basketball court and were more than just wins and losses.
“He says family first, school work second and basketball third,” sophomore Price Morgan said Sunday evening. “He says that at the beginning of the year, every year.”
Lewis lived out the family mentality, as his wife and children were cheering on the Lions at all of the games. He also brought the team together off the court, scheduling team dinners on Thursdays before Friday home games. By the end of the season, everybody on the team was hanging out all of the time and scheduling impromptu meals together.
“We did a lot of team bonding, like playing video games,” junior Anthony Bonner said. “Team dinners, we’d stay there for an extra two hours. It all kind of starts with coach Lewis bringing us together and putting us in situations to bond. We really love each other.”
“Even during team dinners, coach would come downstairs and hang out with us sometimes,” sophomore Justin Roberts added. “Playing pool or making jokes just like all of us would. He just kind of acted like one of the guys sometimes.”
Players agreed Lewis was a person they trusted and respected enough to turn to with their problems.
“It was definitely a family mentality with coach,” sophomore Fred Brou said. “It was always like if coach was there, we’re all brothers, and he’s our father and our brother, too.”
Lewis is plenty proud of his team’s 17-5 record last season, but he was also competitive about his players’ grades. The Lions had five players on the all-academic team at the mid-season Topeka Invitational Tournament.
“He’s really big on getting good grades,” Roberts said. “He wants us to have the highest GPA. He just wants us to be like all-around good kids, and he wants everybody to like us in school, kind of like be role models.”
When it came to basketball, it didn’t matter to Lewis if a player was on varsity or junior varsity. He thought each player contributed to the team’s success.
“He really stressed the phrase, ‘All 19 of us,’” junior Ben Rajewski said. “All 19 guys on the team. Both JV and varsity work as a whole unit.
“He’s there at all the basketball games, freshman games, sophomore games, he’s there watching. He truly cares about every single person in the organization, top to bottom.”
Lewis was a player’s coach, allowing his players to have the occasional easy practice when he sensed they were tired and not yelling at them when they made mistakes.
When assistant coach Kermit Aldridge’s health took a turn for the worse at the end of the season before Lawrence’s first postseason game, Lewis decided to wait until afterward to tell his team. When Aldridge died before the sub-state championship game, he did his best to keep his players’ spirits high.
“He was more worried about us than himself,” Anthony Bonner said. “That’s just how he is. He never put himself before us.”